Friday, October 23, 2009

Come One, Come All, Freaks Unleash The Funny While "The Vampire's Assistant" Gets His Training

Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense supernatural violence and action, disturbing images, thematic elements and some language.
108 minutes
Universal Pictures
*** ½ out of 5

When it comes to famous directing siblings, perhaps the first names that spring to mind are either the kings of gross Farrelly brothers (“Dumb and Dumber,” “There’s Something About Mary,” “Stuck on You” and “Fever Pitch”) or the Academy Award winning team the Coen brothers (“Blood Simple”, “Raising Arizona,” “Fargo,” “No Country for Old Men,” and “Burn After Reading”).

With the double vampire tag team of films coming up we’ll see which brother reigns supreme. I don’t need to tell you which one is the more highly “anticipated” of the two but between Paul and Chris Weitz, my money is Paul as to which delivers the goods. Early word of mouth does not sound promising for “New Moon” but “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” will be far and away the better of the films.

Between the two directors, Paul has a far better resume. To be fair, however, most of their films have been directed together. From their breakout cash cow “American Pie” through the Chris Rock vehicle “Down to Earth” and the fabulous Nick Hornby adaptation “About a Boy,” I’d say they’ve done fairly well working together.

After they decided to tackle their own projects is where their choices started to lag in quality. While Chris cracked out another novel adaptation with “The Golden Compass,” Paul gave us the hilarious “In Good Company” but also the Mandy Moore starring “American Dreamz.” Luckily with the latter he was working again with Hugh Grant whom he first teamed up with for “About a Boy.”

Paul has also managed to now work with two great co-writers while not working directly with brother Chris. While “Down to Earth” was written rather lacklusterly by Chris Rock and his friends, he has been able to work with the great Peter Hedges on “About a Boy” and has now teamed up with Brian Helgeland for “Cirque du Freak.”

Thankfully, Helgeland is working in his element here seeing how he has written both great and pretty dismal offerings himself – “The Taking of Pelham 123,” “Man on Fire,” “Mystic River,” “Blood Work,” “A Knight’s Tale,” “Payback,” “The Postman,” “Conspiracy Theory,” “L.A. Confidential,” “Assassins” and has also ventured into the horror genre before with some offerings in TV (“Friday the 13th” and “Tales From the Crypt”) and on the big screen – “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master” and Robert Englund’s directorial debut “976-EVIL.”

In “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” we meet teenager Darren Shan, played by Chris Massoglia (Darren Shan also happens to be the author’s name of the book series). He’s popular enough and gets good grades in school. His parents love him dearly for making the most out of academics but are none too fond of his best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson).

When Darren gets in trouble after shattering lights with rocks on the roof of the school, Darren’s parents force him to not be friends with Steve anymore. While discussing them being now “secret” best friends in front of the school a car passes by fluttering out a flier for Cirque du Freak. An underground freak show has come to town and the boys are far too curious as to of course not check it out.

After a biting entrance they meet Mr. Tall (Ken Watanabe) who instructs them to say they’re 21-years-old before being allowed to take their seats. Here they see a few shows consisting of Alexander Ribs (Orlando Jones) who’s waist is about an inch, Rhamus Twobellies (Frankie Faison) who can eat just about anything, Gertha Teeth (Kristen Schaal) who has extra large front teeth, Corma Limbs (Jane Krakowski) who can regenerate any body part, Evra the Snake Boy (Utah’s own Patrick Fugit) and finally Madame Truska (Salma Hayek) who can grow a beard while touching a man’s face.

Lastly they see Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly), whom Steve recognizes as a vampire from a book he’s read, perform along with his pet spider Octa. Crepsley’s part of the program is abruptly shut down by one of Darren and Steve’s teachers and the boys separate in order not to be seen.

While hiding out in Crepsley’s closet after stealing Octa from Crepsley Darren overhears Crepsley talking with fellow vampire Gavner Purl (Willem Dafoe) about a feud between normal vamps and what are called “vampaneze.” These "vampaneze" insist on fully draining and killing their victims where the rest only drink enough to sustain their needs and keep from getting hunted down by lynch mobs. Darren also overhears Steve confess that he hates his life and wants to be made a vampire.

Crepsley denies Steve his desire which infuriates him and Darren escapes with Octa in tow. The next day at school Octa escapes from Darren’s backpack and bites Steve on the cheek. Darren seeks out Crepsley for an antidote which is only to be granted after Darren agrees to allow Crepsley to turn him into a half-vampire. This means he can run errands for Crepsley during the day and won’t have to rely solely on blood for survival.

Steve finds solace in the likes of Mr. Tiny (Michael Cerveris) who grants him his vampiric wish and is assigned a mentor, Murlaugh (Ray Stevenson). Unbeknownst to Steve, Mr. Tiny actually wants to concoct a war between vampires and the “vampaneze” to end the truce which he feels has gone on far too long. Mr. Tiny uses Steve to find Darren to fight and possibly kill each other to bring the truce to an end.

As you can see there is a lot of exposition. That it all flows so well is quite a surprise with such a truncated running time. You can tell that there are huge chunks missing with jarring transitional scenes and characters that are seen rather briefly but obviously originally had much more screen time. At least the film doesn’t suffer from the same thing the “Harry Potter” series and “Twilight” do which is the director’s inability to not film the book page-for-page.

Last week, “Where the Wild Things Are” managed to pull off quite the stunt by making me literally feel like a kid again while this week I get another one that makes me remember what it was like to watch a film as a young kid. The sense of ooh and ahh is quite high here and at least Universal is releasing it at exactly the right time with Halloween only a week away. Kudos to Paul Weitz managing to shorten his own work but still find the time to offer some fun characterization.

Josh Hutcherson may be the better known actor but compared to Chris Massoglia in the lead, Hutcherson still has quite a way to go in the acting department. The supporting cast is great as the cast of “freaks” they all are but the film’s greatest strength comes from the always fantastic John C. Reilly. Whether he’s Mr. Cellophane in “Chicago” to playing sidekick to Will Ferrell in “Talladega Nights” and “Stepbrothers,” the man is always a delight with his ever fuzzy head of hair and drop dead-pan delivery.

A slight point of interest I noticed too was how refreshing it was to watch a film aimed at the “tween” demographic which features an actual score. Only a few choice songs were used throughout the film and seemed to be used more for their sense of tone in the scene than simply to plaster another boy band or emo pop group on the back of the soundtrack.

The opening credit sequence is very fun and cleverly done while managing to set up the overall tone of sinister and camp. It also made the film seem like a mix of “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and “The Monster Squad.” And any director who can bring more attention to one of my favorite bands, The Fratellis, the better in my book.

The so-called message of the film comes off pretty forced as almost an afterthought and it was definitely not needed. However, if you’re looking for something slightly spooky this season thankfully they have managed to squeeze in an appropriate edge and the film definitely earns its PG-13 rating. This one is even more so not for the youngsters than most thought last week’s children’s film was. If the film feels even slightly choppy that may be because it was but at least what was left in the final cut flows evenly enough, the loose ends are tied up and the sequel is lead into. The best news is that at least these vampires follow centuries of mythology and thankfully no one sparkles.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Movie Review: “Law Abiding Citizen”

** out of 5
108 minutes
Rated R for strong bloody brutal violence and torture, a scene of rape, and pervasive language.
Overture Films

In coming up with the idea for Kurt Wimmer’s latest screenplay offering, apparently he sat down for a triple feature consisting of “Law & Order,” “The Dark Knight” and any of the first five “Saw” films. But when a screenwriter’s only good movie is the Christian Bale starring “Equilibrium” maybe studios should start second guessing his writing duties.

Aside from that single fun flick, which graced the cinematic world the term “gun kata,” he has also brought us some pretty abysmal offerings. After his first feature outing, the Barbarian Brothers abomination “Double Trouble,” he managed to lay low but kept up his resume with contributions to the completely-missed-the-point Michael Crichton adaptation “Sphere” and “The Thomas Crown Affair” which one can’t help but think was completely rewritten by Leslie Dixon and helped even more so by its cast and director.

The already mentioned “Equilibrium” is by far Wimmer’s one shining example of star power coming together with some cool direction and a great idea. One would think after watching this that maybe he should direct his own work but even that wasn’t a great idea since this was followed up with “Ultraviolet.” In between he managed to spit out the Colin Farrell, Al Pacino thriller “The Recruit.”

Director F. Gary Gray (try typing that ten times fast) is no better than Wimmer. With a few crowd pleasers such as “Friday,” “Set It Off” and “The Italian Job” at least he has a few good films to his oeuvre. But most of the time his movies wind up being far too silly in their execution and take themselves way too seriously for how ridiculous the plots are. These films would consist of both “The Negotiator” and “A Man Apart.”

The worst film in his arsenal is one of the worst sequels imaginable, “Be Cool.” How you can take such a great cast consisting of John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn, Cedric the Entertainer, Andre Benjamin, Harvey Keitel, Dwayne Johnson, Danny Devito and James Woods in an Elmore Leonard adaptation and turn it into the resulting suckfest was quite an accomplishment. Not to mention that it was supposed to be a reunion of sorts for Travolta and Thurman last seen together in “Pulp Fiction.”

How entertaining “The Italian Job” was had to be a complete fluke. Even “Friday” and “Set It Off” weren’t what you would call really good movies. “The Italian Job” wasn’t even what one could call great either but it took a fun idea, based on the original film, cobbled together a great cast and let the Mini Cooper’s cruise the movie to box office gold.

In “Law Abiding Citizen,” Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) is just that. He sits at home building machines, playing with his daughter and appears to have a happy marriage with his wife. Unfortunately, the family is ambushed one night in a home invasion. His wife is raped and murdered in front of their daughter whom said rapist, Clarence Darby (Christian Stolte) then murders as well and Clyde is seemingly left for dead.

Darby had an accomplice that night and to get himself a bargaining deal he plays nice with Assistant District Attorney Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx). Darby gets three to five years while his ratted out accomplice winds up getting the death sentence. Ten years later Clyde can’t come to terms with the fact that justice is far from served and decides to take matters into his own hands and manages to kill both the accomplice and Darby in a very Jigsaw-like manner.

After Clyde is arrested and Nick tries to squeeze out a confession, Clyde offers his own bargaining chip which triggers a string of events where anyone involved with the original case begins to die. Everything from car bombs to booby-trapped cell phones come into play in what Clyde assures Nick will wind up being “biblical” as he plans to bring the entire justice system to its knees.

Apparently when a man in prison is systematically killing off personal offenders the whole city feels the need to shut down. In one scene it is hilariously explained that the public have ceased leaving their homes and children are afraid to attend school. How any of what Clyde has managed to pull off affects the general public is beyond me yet is made such a plot point that it is one of the movie’s most unintentionally hilarious moments (aside from the booby-trapped cell phone).

With a script blueprinted out of the most ridiculous scenarios and plot holes that flat out make no sense it appears as if everyone was looking for something to do to pass some time. Gerard Butler’s Clyde character remains the man you route for continually right up until the end when the film completely belly flops into the most asinine yet anti-climatic finale seen in a thriller in quite some time.

When an audience wants Clyde to pull off his stunts and possibly win by killing off Foxx’s Nick you know something isn’t working. Not to mention that Foxx is so unlikeable here yet seems to be playing himself that he is quickly turning into the new Tom Cruise by turning in such a lame performance he’s unintentionally playing what could have been one of his “In Living Color” characters. Well Mr. Foxx, it may not have been “your” character who coined this phrase but “homey don’t play that” and you need to find a new shtick.

The Classic Children's Picture Book, "Where the Wild Things Are," Comes Roaring To Glorious Life

Rated PG for mild thematic elements, some adventure action and brief language.
107 minutes
Warner Bros.
***** out of 5

Spike Jonze has been MIA for seven years in the movie scene. However, he has come back with a vengeance and delivered one of the most brilliant family films about being a young boy on the cusp of finally having to grow up. After author Maurice Sendak saw Jonze’s breakout film “Being John Malkovich” it was then that Sendak knew who should adapt his own children’s book and since then audiences had no idea what to expect from a live action version of “Where the Wild Things Are.”

The film being written by Jonze himself along with author Dave Eggers, who also has written his own adaptation of the original novel, they have taken a 9 sentence story and expanded it into a 107 minute opus to the child inside every boy who has grown up since the book’s original publication in 1963. After having just watched Eggers own “Away We Go” only a few days prior to the screening of “Where the Wild Things Are” I knew that along with Jonze there would be more than enough character and emotion to sustain a feature length running time.

Catherine Keener has now had a role in all three of Jonze’s films. From her hilarious turns in “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation” (where she coincidentally played herself) she obviously has a great friendship with the director. Jonze not so coincidentally directed Keener to an Oscar nomination for her already mentioned role in “Being John Malkovich.” This time with ever decreasing screen time she takes a backseat to the star of “Where the Wild Things Are,” Max Records who plays the lead as Max.

Most, by now, should be ultimately familiar with the tale of Max and his adventures with the Wild Things whether they have read the book or not. With the three most realistic opening scenes of being a young boy ever, we can see that Jonze is up to task in bringing everything necessary to the table while still maintaining this to be his film. Who hasn’t run around the house as a child screaming and chasing their dog, terrorizing it with as much fake ferocity as one can muster? It’s the most natural thing for a child to do with a pet. As a grown up I still do this today.

The second scene shows Max tunneling out an igloo across the street from his house and gathering snowballs for a showdown with his sister Claire (Pepita Emmerichs) and her friends. After starting the snowball fight he runs across to his igloo for shelter being followed by Claire’s friends who proceed to jump onto the igloo and bring it tumbling down on top of him. Of course Max is upset and can’t help but cry as he’s infuriated that things have gone too far. Why is Max really crying? Anyone who’s been in this situation as a child can tell you that Max is really upset with himself for having the world’s greatest idea crushed by his own selfishness in the situation.

A third scene shows Max taking retaliation upon his sister by running into her room covered in snow, jumping on her bed and destroying a figurine he made for her. After he stands around taking into account his own actions he looks down and sees the destroyed thing, which he made her, now ruined and again begins to cry.

I remember once when I was told I was not to do something while my parents were away and being so infuriated I put a Fisher-Price Corn Popper through the wall. Only then did I realize what I had done and began frantically trying to find a way to cover it up before they came home. The hole was covered up but not until long after I had mentally punished myself more so than my parents ever could have.

One night Max sees his mother kissing her boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo) on the couch downstairs. Clearly Max is not happy about this but he does not say anything. His mom (Keener) passes him in the hall on the way to the kitchen to make dinner for him and Claire. When Max sees his mom is making frozen corn he decides to lash out at her in distaste by standing on top of the kitchen table and demanding, “Make me food, woman!”

This infuriates his mother who demands he act more appropriately and grabs Max to get him off the table. A scuffle ensues, Max bites him mom in retaliation and runs out the front door and down the street with a huge smile on his face. He runs to a waterfront and screams hysterically into the night before calming down and spying a sail boat in the water. He climbs inside and sails off to the island where the wild things are.

Once upon this strange new land he meets the motley crew of creatures. While at first Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini) talks him into helping destroy their homes, the rest simply want to eat him. Lots of talk of eating things or other people takes place in this movie, it’s all rather hilarious really and never gets too frightening. After Max talks them out of eating him by explaining that he is a great king from another land with powers beyond their imagination Carol crowns him their own king.

Max discovers that all of the creatures have their own place whether it be putting holes in the trees like Ira (voiced by Forest Whitaker), wanting attention like Alexander (voiced by Paul Dano), being counted on for everything as Carol does Douglas (voiced by Chris Cooper) or just plain being a downer like Judith (voiced by Catherine O’Hara).

Along the way Max realizes that the only way to keep his new friends happy is by putting them to work building a huge fort where they can all live and sleep in piles together. He assigns jobs to everyone to keep them busy and at first things seem perfect. His own insecurities start to come shining through in each of the creatures, along with hints about why his own dad is not in the picture.

The movie deals greatly not just with having to grow up and move on into your teenage years but with children’s own anger issues and their instability of dealing with adult matters that are well beyond their years. Is Max meant to stay with the creatures forever and try to live moment by moment keeping everyone happy? Or does he need to learn how to deal with his own life and return home where he’s sure his family misses him?

If you’ve read the book you are sure to know the answers to how everything turns out but that doesn’t mean you should skip seeing the movie. It features one of the most brilliant child performances in recent memory particularly involving the fact that little Max the actor does very little human interaction during the film. The creatures are so astoundingly rendered through the use of animatronics, life-size puppets and computer-generated faces that you never once think you’re looking at anything except living, breathing creatures. “Where the Wild Things Are” is undisputedly where everyone needs to be this weekend.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cast Votes PG-13 Rating Off The Island And Saves the Day In "Couples Retreat," ENCOURAGEMENT!

Rated PG-13 for sexual content and language.
107 minutes
Universal Pictures
*** ½ out of 5

Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau are great friends. This is very apparent as they have now starred in five films together since their original collaboration “Swingers” back in 1996 and its unintentional sequel “Made.” Along the way they have made a pretty good friendship with little Ralphie Parker himself (“A Christmas Story”), Peter Billingsley. He has appeared with them both in the boring-except-when-Vaughn-and-Favreau-are-on-screen-together “The Break-Up,” joined them in last year’s “Four Christmases” along with small roles in Favreau’s own “Elf” and “Iron Man” and now the trio bring us “Couples Retreat.”

When Vaughn and Favreau are on-screen together their rantings usually get heated and tense but all for the sake of comedy. The verbal diarrhea these two spew upon an audience in just a matter of minutes is usually always hilarious if you can catch half of what either is saying between taking breaths.

Out of Vaughn and Favreau’s pairings, all but one have either been storied or scripted by either of them. Of those five Favreau directed “Made” himself but this time has handed the directorial reigns over to Billingsley and the results are slightly mixed but the spirited cast keep the film rolling along thanks to a witty script co-written by Vaughn and Favreau along with hack Dana Fox who brought us the crap-fests “The Wedding Date” and “What Happens in Vegas.”

I don’t know where Dana Fox found the magic lamp she’s rubbed that granted her wish to be a prolific Hollywood screenwriter but the genie within needs to be rubbed out. I haven’t found anything online that makes mention of this but she obviously is good friends with Cameron Diaz as out of the five films she’s credited with, all but one will have starred Diaz. It’s almost ironic that this film stars Malin Akerman who looks almost exactly like Diaz.

The script heard throughout “Couples Retreat” does manage to give me some hope for Fox as it’s easily the funniest movie she’s been involved in and while “What Happens in Vegas” was by no means a laughfest, it did manage a few guilty chuckles. Her next film is titled “Wichita” starring Diaz alongside Tom Cruise reuniting them after 2001’s “Vanilla Sky” and is being directed by James Mangold with a co-writing credit with Scott Frank and Mangold so fingers crossed.

“Couples Retreat” stars Vaughn as Dave who is seemingly happily married to Ronnie (Malin Akerman). They have two youngsters of whom the youngest seems to take particular love in making his parents life miserable in public by using toilet displays in home improvement stores. Joey (Favreau) is married to high school sweetheart Lucy (Kristin Davis) whom he knocked up before graduation and are trying to make it through each day arguing over who was supposed to mail the tuition check while talking sense into their now grown daughter who just wants to leave the house looking like an escort for hire. Shane (Faizon Love) is the one-liner dropping newly divorced friend who has just started a “relationship” with a 20-year-old named Trudy (Kali Hawk) who likes to call him “Daddy” in public which is ultra creepy as he’s easily twice her age. While at a birthday party for one of Dave and Ronnie’s kids the group is talked into attending a power point presentation given by their friends Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell) who inform them that after years of marriage and trying cannot conceive. This has put such a strain on their relationship that they are now considering divorce but would like to give it one last try by being joined with their motley crew for a week-long getaway to the Eden Resort.

Once on the island they find out that while Jason and Cynthia are getting what they came for, relationship rebuilding, the rest of the group has to join in these exercises or forfeit their stay and forced to return home. Since they are already there and it’s an all inclusive resort the rest of them decide they might as well stay. Joey meanwhile finds out that while they are in Eden East across the water on a separate island is Eden West where the singles get to party and the focus of that island is simply: sex. One morning after Shane wakes up to find Trudy missing Joey knows that she must be on Eden East and devises a plan for everyone to bring her back but not without an ulterior motive.

Whether everyone is snorkeling in shark infested waters, sitting in an inexplicable sauna hut that sheds snow or canoeing out into open waters to find Trudy, the non-stop banter between characters is strictly where the strong points of the film lie. Some of the couples realize that they have troubles unbeknownst and others begin to try to work through the troubles they were there for in the first place but in the end everyone comes to realize something wholehearted which brings the film together and everything finally works.

Originally rated R but granted a PG-13 after appeal you can easily tell where scenes were trimmed and lines were altered with jarring camera angles. The DVD/Blu-ray editions will undoubtedly sport an unrated version. So whether you’re looking for a great date movie or just out for a slightly raunchy good time this weekend you could easily do worse. With Halloween creeping upon us and October being known as one of Hollywood’s dumping months it’s nice to have a movie live up to its premise and offer such a great escape, even if you’re just watching a live-action screen saver for two hours.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Movie Review: “Zombieland”

***** out of 5
80 minutes
Rated R for horror violence/gore and language.
Columbia Pictures

In the annals of zombie movies there’s definitely a broad share of the good, the bad and the ugly. It may not be my favorite sub-genre of horror but I do enjoy my fair share of the undead rising from death to munch on hapless passersby. Whether it be straight out horror to the occasionally played as thriller to the outright loving spoof, there’s a great many variety when it comes to these types of films.

Over the last few years there have been a lot of zombie movies. Some of the better include: 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead,” the British goods “Boy Eats Girl” and “Shaun of the Dead,” “Planet Terror” and of course the great duo “28 Days and Weeks Later.” The independent market seems to be the place to find most of the more expendable flicks but there are way more in that department not worth mentioning.

This year has seen possibly only one other great horror film, “Drag Me to Hell” but thankfully with Halloween fast approaching and October finally upon us we have at least one more film to be thankful for – “Zombieland.” Director Ruben Fleischer may be a first time theatrical director but in no way does it ever become apparent. With a fusion of Zack Snyder (lots of slow motion but never an overuse), some very gallows humor, a brilliant sense of awareness and its finger brilliantly on the pulse of pop culture comes a splatacular little movie that quickly moves to the top of the best films of the year. Yes, even if it happens to be a zombie movie.

While this is Paul Wernick’s first outing as feature film writer, co-writer Rhett Reese has some surprising credits behind him – “Cruel Intentions 3,” and the kid films “Clifford’s Really Big Movie,” Pixar’s “Monsters, Inc.,” and Disney’s “Tarzan II” and “Dinosaurs.” Not particularly the type of films to generate a hilariously balls out, red Karo syrup splattered, and scare filled zombie feature. But, just like the writing team behind “Cats and Dogs’” Glen Ficarra and John Requa brought us “Bad Santa” I guess everyone’s allowed to have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Jesse Eisenberg could be instantly played off as a Michael Cera wannabe if he wasn’t such an incredibly better actor. From his first few films “The Village,” “Cursed” and “The Squid and the Whale” he brought instantly likeable characters to at least two instantly forgettable films. Last seen in “Adventureland” he now brings us a double feature year that should hopefully keep him promptly placed in lead roles after his hilariously endearing goofball turn here.

Woody Harrelson may be a bigger name than the rest of the cast but that has more to do with how long he’s been around. Playing a pair of sisters, Emma Stone (“Superbad” and “The House Bunny”) and Abigail Breslin (“Little Miss Sunshine” herself) bring on the funny also as they outwit the mismatched bickering odd couple of Eisenberg and Harrelson at every turn.

The world has been taken over by zombies. That’s the plain premise the film wastes no time explaining and moving on from. Columbus (Eisenberg) is assumingly the last man alive in Texas and is headed east to find his family in hopes of them still being alive. While walking a vacated highway he is picked up by Tallahassee (Harrelson) after a very quick Sergio Leone stand off. Tallahassee is instantly annoyed by Columbus but appears to be very much in need of company to keep himself from going completely insane in a humanless world. After a hunt for Twinkies in a convenience store lands them getting car-jacked by Wichita (Stone) and Little Rock (Breslin) they serendipitously meet up again later and decide to join forces to head west to an abandoned amusement park where Wichita can let Little Rock have the chance to be a kid at least one more time.

Encounters are had and everyone gets their moment to be a hero as the cast hilariously marches towards the end of the runtime. Director Fleischer gives us a Speedy Gonzales breakneck pace and brings on the scary when the timing is right even if it happens to coincide with yet another hilarious line of dialogue. The best part of the film is that it definitely will take a few viewings to catch all the spectacularly penned one liners sprinkled throughout a very rare zombie movie that has its meat cake and gets to eat it too with a great amount of heart thrown into the mix for good measure. It’s not too big of a shock that this is being released so early into the month as I am sure that just like myself; everyone who sees it will have a great hunger to see it over and over again.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

"Whip It" Good This Weekend With Barrymore's Crowd Pleasing Directorial Debut

Rated PG-13 for sexual content including crude dialogue, language and drug material.
111 minutes
Fox Searchlight
**** out of 5

When it comes to mainstream Hollywood entertainment Drew Barrymore is a lot of people’s favorite actress. Many call her cute-as-a-button but I have never been convinced of either of these things. When I first read she was going to be directing a film about a teen roller derby star I had hopes that what she delivered was at least mildly entertaining. Ms. Barrymore manages to deliver in spades.

From the opening title sequence to the film’s obvious mise en scène I knew something special was about to unfold. Whether it be the camaraderie between the cast to musical cues to just the downright likeability of the entire cast everything seems to have gone inexplicably right for Barrymore’s sophomore effort.

Drew Barrymore has lots of funny friends and thankfully they all get the spotlight more than her in what could have wound up as another run-of-the-mill vanity project. Instead of another “Gigli” or “Glitter” we get a huge crowd pleaser about a bunch of girls that I am sure most moviegoers will have no idea even existed. Here in Salt Lake City we even have our own Derby Girls whose information can be found on their homepage at

Shauna Cross is still a newcomer in the world of screenwriting with “Whip It” being her first big theatrical release. This is also the directing debut of Drew Barrymore and the two have managed to combine forces, along with lots of Barrymore’s friends, to bring us a great little story about a girl who finds something she finally loves in life even if it means some literal and figurative bumps and bruises along the way. Cross also wrote the novel the movie is based on and the film intrigues me enough to possibly read the book or at least add her first screenwriting attempt “Taking 5” to my NetFlix queue.

With a cast consisting of Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Daniel Stern, Jimmy Fallon, Kristen Wiig, Zoe Bell, Eve, Juliette Lewis, Andrew Wilson (the much lesser-known brother of Luke and Owen) and Barrymore herself, you would think that it would be a fight to the finish for any one of them to get their fair share of screen time. Thanks to Cross’s script and Barrymore’s breezy direction everyone gets their chance to shine.

Ellen Page makes her first screen presence since “Smart People” and her first starring role since “Juno” as Bliss Cavendar. A plucky indie 17-year-old residing in Bodeen, Texas who spends her time working at the Oink Joint with best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat, “Arrested Development”) and participating against her will in local beauty pageants for her mother, Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden). When her mother drags Bliss out shopping for shoes at what turns into being a head shop, Bliss runs into some local Derby Girls dropping off flyers for tryouts at a head shop where they’re purchasing shoes. She becomes instantly fascinated and lies to her parents about attending an out of town high school football game with Pash.

Immediately smitten with the sport she lies to the league about her age in order to attend tryouts where she makes the team and becomes an instant success in the eyes of Razor (Andrew Wilson), coach for the Hurl Scouts. After a semi-raid on the warehouse they have the competitions at, Pash is arrested for under-age drinking leading her parents to finding out that she has been participating in this new sport and not attending an SAT class as they were told.

Her mother is insistent that she compete in one final pageant which happens to be the same night as the derby finals and now she must either give in or surrender to her parents who are divided between their little girl having fun in a moment of life or doing as she’s told. We also must not leave out the obligatory love story that is playful and endearing rather than forced and annoying.

The cast is obviously having a tremendous amount of fun and Barrymore shows far more competency behind the camera. She even keeps her own character to a minimum giving time for characterization where you would least expect it. Jimmy Fallon manages to be funny again while Kristen Wiig pulls out a true performance in what is the closest she’s had to a starring role in her own right. Zoe Bell doesn’t have quite as much to do and was obviously cast more for her being a stunt woman who can act which makes the director’s job easier as she showed us in Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof.” And while Ellen Page luckily doesn’t just ape her “Juno” persona, a scene involving Bliss and Pash giving Bliss’s younger sister Shania (Eulala Scheel) a “make-over” is not only hilarious but rings true without being corny.

If you’re looking for a great time this weekend look no further. A great script, direction with just the right amount of truth and a cast having the time of their life it all adds up to a stirring crowd pleaser. However, lets not forget this weeks other big release, “Zombieland,” which I will also be giving a shout out come Friday.